GREENSBURG — GREENSBURG TAKES A BREAK
The portable lights came from Dodge City, the fence panels from Cimarron, the bleachers from Haviland and the food from Garden City.
But the undaunted spirit was pure Greensburg as the cowboys and cowgirls filled the arena to compete for prize money and points to advance in Kansas Professional Rodeo on Friday night.
Spectators included families, teenagers walking hand in hand and youngsters scampering from row to row of the bleachers.
Five-year-old Matthew Waters' first joy was a chance to play with his cousin, Hunter, whom he hadn't seen for two weeks. But when the horses started circling the arena, he jumped from the pickup to the bleachers to give the show his full attention.
"He's crazy about rodeo," said his mother, Lola, who had come out to Greensburg to show support for the town and for Rodeo Queen contestant Kelsey Schnoebelen, her neighbor in nearby Macksville.
"Kelsey had been after me to come out here, but I wasn't sure I was coming until after the tornado," she said. "All that's happened just made me determined to come and show my support."
Natasha Stevens of Haviland, Greensburg Rodeo Queen of 2005, was at the rodeo with her best friend, Terra Ishcomer, also a queen candidate this year.
She spent the night of May 4 in the home of another friend, reigning rodeo queen Taryn Stoltenberg and endured the experience of surviving a tornado.
"It's something that will be with me the rest of my life," she said. "There's no way to describe what it's like. The noise, the sound of the house being torn apart. I won't ever forget it."
But she was happy to put it to the back of her mind Friday night and focus on the calf roping, bronc riding and bull riding.
Admission to the rodeo was free, but most of the spectators who filled the bleachers made a contribution to Greensburg's tornado relief fund. The proceeds from the concession stand were donated as well and the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association donated its usual fee back to the Greensburg's Triangle Club.
Greensburg native Mike Greenleaf, owner of the Medicine River Rodeo Co., helped organize the event and supplied the rodeo stock. He made up his mind on May 7, three days after the tornado wiped out his hometown.
"I just felt like it was something I could do, to give the people who have been working and trying to clean up a break to spend two hours just doing something normal," Greenleaf said.
Among those who came were the Johnson family from Kansas City, Kan.
"We were down for the weekend and helping some cousins clean up," said Kevin Johnson. "My father-in-law talked us into coming out to the rodeo."
Most of the spectators were either from Greensburg, or like the Waters, from nearby towns such as Haviland, Macksville and Bucklin.
One man was from far away.
Sitting on the bleacher wearing a blue windbreaker and a ball cap with FEMA written on it was Ted Rhymes from Seattle.
"I'm here in town working as a Disaster Assistance Employee with FEMA," he said. "I go from disaster to disaster. This is as bad as it gets. So much destruction. And some of the older people who have spent their whole life here... they just have nothing left."
He wiped a tear, then smiled as he said he was thrilled when he heard the rodeo was coming.
"Forty-five years ago I was a cowboy," he said. "I was a bareback bronc rider."
He smiled again.
"You know what, this is the first rodeo I've been to in more than 40 years. I'm living in a room in a Barclay College dorm. I'm not complaining because I've got a bed and a place to lay my head. But I sure am happy to have something to break the monotony."
And that is what Mike Greenleaf had in mind.